The Testament of Orpheus (1960)

Ah, this is more like it. Parenthetically, when did I last watch two so completely dissimilar films one after the other on the same night? Feels like it’s been a while… Anyway, it was only relatively recently that I think I really appreciated for the first time just what an anomaly Jean Cocteau was in film history, how relatively few films he actually made, and the extent to which filmmaking really was just one aspect of his whole artistic output, all of which he considered was ultimately some manifestation of poetry. Having apparently decided he no longer needed to make films, he designed this as a conscious farewell, revisiting his own past, particularly his Orpheus; and if nothing else it demonstrates that Cocteau was very much unto himself as a film artist. If film was just one of a number of artistic endeavours for him, he still took it seriously enough to demonstrate some sort of cohesive vision through it, and so Testament is of a piece with the other two “Orphic trilogy” films; if you’ve seen the other films (and you pretty much do need to have seen them to get the full good of this one) then you wouldn’t mistake this for anyone else’s work. Mind you, it does kind of embody what I said the other day about my mood affecting my reception of certain films; this consideration is particularly the case with films like this that might be called experimental or avant-garde or that just generally ignore the conventional rules of narrative cinema, and if I’d been in the wrong mood—and let’s face it, Teenage Zombies didn’t exactly leave me overflowing with joy earlier tonight—I could have hated this. And yet I didn’t; obviously I was in the right frame of mind for it. In some ways it is the sort of self-conscious “art” cinema that’d be terribly easy to cut down and parody, but there’s too much beauty in Cocteau’s strangeness. Somehow, too, I suspect I find myself more enchanted by his use of simple camera tricks like reverse motion than I would be by all the technoflash in the Tron sequel everyone except me currently seems to be excited by right now. In short, delightful.

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